When a PhD in India or China or Brazil looks to find a better life for his family, how does Canada stack up?
The question is an important one if you consider that in the timeline of Canadian technology, the immigrant experience has been vital. Perhaps the two most important names in our tech history, Mike Lazaridis and Terry Matthews, were not born here.
Research in Motion founder Lazaridis was five years old when his family moved to Windsor from Istanbul in 1966. In 1979, he enrolled at the University of Waterloo, studying electrical engineering and computer science. In 1984, he founded Research in Motion.
Terry Matthews, since known as Sir Terry, served an apprenticeship at a British Telecom’s research lab in England before he joined MicroSystems International, a chipmaker affiliated with Northern Telecom in Ottawa. Matthews met another immigrant -Michael Cowpland- at Bell Northerm Lands and formed Mitel, which made Matthews a billionare in 1985 when British Telecom took a controlling interest.
Is the government listening? Some would say yes. A little more than a year ago the Canadian government announced it would accept up to 1,000 international PhD students per year as permanent residents through the Federal Skilled Worker Program. Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear said the reasons were simple.
“Doctoral graduates play a unique role in the economy. They drive research, encourage innovation and pass on their knowledge through teaching,” he said. “And quite simply, Canada needs more of them.”
It seems more than clear that the world is interested, at least those parts of the world that are graduating the most PhD’s.
Simon Cridland, spokesperson of the High Commission of Canada in Delhi, said Canada admitted nearly a quarter-million new permanent residents in 2012. “We have maintained the immigration levels despite the recession because our economic growth will require a steady stream of new immigrants to meet labour market demands,” he explained to immigration advice site WorkPermit.com In 2010, 30,252 Indians gained permanent resident status in Canada, which was an increase of more than 4,000 compared to the previous year.
But where does Canada stack up in comparison to other English speaking destinations? Most job searches begin the same way most other searches do: with Google. We decided to conduct a decidedly unscientific data sample. What would the numbers look like if we search Google for tech jobs in different countries with the same search terms. It turns out Canada stacks up surprisingly well.
“Tech jobs Canada” 445,000 results
“Tech jobs South Africa” 327,000 results
“Tech jobs England” 124,000 results
“Tech jobs Australia” 1.94 million results
“Tech jobs Wales” 84,500 results
“Tech jobs United States” 588,000 results
Still, many, including Terry Matthews himself, says Canada isn’t doing enough to promote what appears to be an edge in tech, as least in the eyes of the rest of the world. Matthews says there is a perception that Canada’s is outperforming, but the evidence suggests we are actually lagging.
His investment firm, Wesley Clover, released a white paper called “The Challenge of Survival for Canada’s Technology Sectors”. The paper warns “we cannot rely on the export of oils gas minerals, grain and wood alone”. The document also sets to dispel what it believes to be a commonly accepted fallacy; that Canada got through the recession unscathed and is a model for the world. The paper points out that Canada ranked a lackluster 13th of 34 in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for real GDP growth in 2010.
A year ago, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Stephen Harper addressed Canada’s lagging research and development, and its role in science and technology based investments. Harper concluded, based partly on a report by a panel led by Open Text Chairman Tom Jenkins, that the way Canada approaches technology is in need of a serious overhaul. Will he commit to the recommendations of the report, which suggest, among other things an rethink of the SRED program and the Business Development Bank? It seems the rest of the world is hoping we do.